When Will Online Writing Get the Respect It Deserves?

by Michaela Lola Apr 22, 2008
Publishing online is still viewed as less “legitimate” than publishing printed words on the physical page.

THE INTERNET HAS made it much easier for writers to break into the world of publishing. As an aspiring writer myself, I’ve spent countless hours exploring every website imaginable, all of which promise the key to success.

Websites such as Matador Travel, Transitions Abroad, and EditRED provide opportunities to hone your journalistic endeavors.

But while the Internet is undeniably one of the greatest platforms a modern writer can use to promote their work, the debate between old-school traditionalists who prefer print and cyberspace junkies who preach the gospel of RSS still burns.

Many perceive the printed word as THE official medium for a writer.

“A new architecture is emerging which allows people to connect with each other in revolutionary ways.” – Will Hutton (The Observer)

This perception is largely due to the pervasive belief that the editorial standards of print media are higher than those of online alternatives.

This perception is incomplete, because many online outlets do have high editorial standards; in some cases, higher than the majority of print publications.

Even if your writing is accepted by an elite online publication, telling your friends about your accomplishment will rarely evoke gasps of admiration. The reputation of inconsistent online quality is just too hard to shake, because so much mediocre writing is freely available through e-zines, online communities and blogs.

The truth needs to be revealed: writing for the web is more than Myspace blog posts and personal “My Summer Holiday” narratives. There is excellent writing online, you just need to know where to look.

The Weakness Of Websites?

One argument put forth by the traditionalists is that websites present less detailed information and lack in-depth analysis, supposedly symptoms of the online media generation afflicted with a bad case of Attention Deficit Disorder.

Photo by Len-K-A

Instead of reading an article thoroughly, these web-savvy youth merely log on, scan a few paragraphs, get their facts, and scuttle off to the next site in search of pirated movies, music, and the latest Britney Spears upskirt photo.

In some ways, this criticism hits the mark. Reading online does not provide the tactile and leisurely pleasure of turning the pages of a morning paper over coffee and eggs.

However, many websites such as Drift Magazine, Terrain and Anderbo provide downloadable PDF versions that are designed to provide a more in-depth reading experience.

Many online articles also provide a full-on multimedia experience that goes beyond the simple act of reading and provides new ways for reader and writer to connect.

And greens take note: in this age of increased environmental awareness, reading online is also much friendlier for the environment. Digital magazines prevent unnecessary paper consumption and waste.

Editorial Opinions

Online media also provides immediate opportunities for reader involvement. Simmons B. Buntin, Editor of Terrain, says:

“Online publications have provided more real-time, what we might call ‘viral’ marketing or exposure opportunities. If you read something online that you like, all you need to do is send the link to a friend…newer web technologies allow us to rate writing, comment on it, track it, listen to it, promote it through our blogs, and in general share it with others at an exhilarating, if not mind-boggling, rate.”

The online medium has become indispensable for aspiring writers because they’re able to receive feedback and publicity for their work.

Websites such as The Rose and Thorn, Hack Writers, and Cafe Irreal, provide the possibility for writers to interact with their audience.

Furthermore, e-publishing is a great way to gain exposure, not just among fellow writers, but also to literary agents, editors, and publishing houses who can help writers make the transition from web to print.

Editor Sam North from Hackwriters attests to the fact that online work can be a useful tool for self-promotion:

“Writers gain exposure through writing on-line and some find editors who will take them up in print…many of our writers have had books commissioned from work on site.”

Authors like Rolf Potts, James Ogle, and Digby Beaumont got their start by publishing in e-zines and online communities, and have since moved on to print publications, although both continue to publish writing online.

Learning Where To Start

For decades, authors have formed social bonds that involve the free exchange of connections and ideas.

Many authors have gotten their start by joining online writing communities. This concept of a society of artists is not new. For decades, authors have formed social bonds that involve the free exchange of connections and ideas.

Examples of legendary icons who have taken this route to fame and fortune include Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and their fellow beat poets, Ernest Hemingway and the Lost Generation in Europe, Henry Miller and Anais Nin, and Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

One of the foremost websites that promote this concept is EditRED.com, which aspires to help writers get work published by exposing it within the online community.

In this ‘writers space,’ users are not only able to promote themselves, but can also provide feedback and support on each other’s work. EditRED is also a great space for self-promotion, because authors can advertise the books they’ve already published.

Sean Merrigan, editor and co-creator of EditRED, believes that the success and sustainability of both a writing website and aspiring authors is contingent on:

“…finding and keeping an interested audience. But I think beyond this simple formula, sustainability in any creative field involves finding a market or niche or community that is willing to participate, support and nurture talent. Editors need great writers, writers need great editors, both need an audience that is switched on to what is being presented to them. At the same time, audiences are ever more discerning.”

Show Me The Money

Screenshot of your beloved BNT.

However, if helpful sites such as EditRED.com aim to provide all the tools that a writer would need to become wildly successful, why aren’t there more successful online writers?

Alternatively, how do editors of quality websites achieve their sustainability without getting lost in the vast junkyard of blogs, sites, and ezines?

Simmons B. Buntin states: “the publication can be the impetus, but not the regulator.”

The tools, tricks, and the mechanics of publishing can be assisted by the website or community, but the real work begins and ends with the writer.

Buntin states the “responsibility of advancing work lies first and foremost with the writer…but the elements contain such things as hard work, perseverance, a thick skin, plenty of reading, plenty of writing, lots of submitting, an eye for detail, and no small amount of luck.”

Thus, the main way for writers to get work noticed and accepted is to produce quality pieces. Simple.

With so many ‘quick and easy’ schemes available on the net (as well as in print), it is easy to forget that the main job of the writer is to actually write well. The value of a website relies on the caliber of the written word.

Just like traditional writers, Barbara Quinn cautions that “…many people tell stories that aren’t interesting to anyone but themselves. Writers need to ask why would anyone want to read this? What makes this story stand out from the hundreds of others like it?”

Online magazines and writer communities won’t allow a mediocre writer to succeed, but they will grant good writers the possibility of success by allowing them to immediately expose their work to a wide audience.

A Changing Perception

Online magazines, which many people initially thought of as a passing trend, seem to have become a permanent fixture.

Attitudes towards online media seem to be changing, and sites have been garnering greater attention from both readers and print publications. Online magazines, which many people initially thought of as a passing trend, seem to have become a permanent fixture.

Popular newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times and Newsweek have taken notice, building a major online presence with features such as blogs, podcasts, and videos.

With more and more companies, communities, and magazines expanding into cyberspace, the competition to produce quality content is fierce. Simmons B. Buntin asserts that the view of the public is changing and will continue to change “as more people find good literature online.”

With so many new technological innovations conceived and invented every day, readers, writers and editors all wonder: what’s next?

G.S. Evans from Cafe Irreal thinks that “some form of revolution in reading technology that would make it easier and more comfortable to read online publications” could combat the residual bias against cyberzines.

Simmons B. Buntin believes that websites that can be accessed through mobile devices, such as iPhones, and Amazon’s Kindle, are becoming increasingly necessary for success.

On a similar note, Sam North from Hackwriters believes that the future lies with magazines that move, allowing “some combination of sound, text, image…Performance readings and the like.”

Sean Merrigan looks to establishing closer ties between readers and writers:

“…the future holds greater interactivity between writers and readers; more debate, and more ideas. But this will be a collaborative process: editors need to ensure they promote quality writing; readers need to be demanding about what they want to read. This will be the key to greater legitimacy. In my opinion the sky is the limit.”

What do you think about the changing view of online writing? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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